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Please Stop Calling Your Workforce a Family

It’s like nails on a chalkboard every time I hear a CEO talk about their workforce as a family. To me, it’s presumptuous and inappropriate. While some organizations are able to cultivate and sustain a somewhat familial culture, more often than not, the family moniker rings hollow as an unnatural hierarchy or sad attempt to communicate a fun employer brand. The reality is that joining a “family” is not why we make a career move.

An over-developed emphasis on corporate culture actually detracts from the common goal of for-profit businesses: which is to drive favorable outcomes. Popular thinking has workforce “families” banding together a la Maslow’s hierarchy to pursue self-actualization, love and belonging. When flush with funding, the family model feels like it holds the workforce together with passion and deep ties. But when it’s time to divest itself of certain members, employees are suddenly reminded that their spot in the family is at-will. As financial circumstances change, quickly gone are the “cultural” perks, such as free snacks in the break room and Friday afternoon happy hour, along with trust and integrity.

The fact of the matter is that we take jobs that satisfy basic requirements and make sure the bills get paid. Social and cultural evolution haven’t accelerated to the point when disparate groups of people working for fleeting moments in time are forever bound together. It’s naive to think that a family model works in the workplace and, in fact, it’s quite damaging. Consider the following:

Your CEO Doesn’t Dictate Your Life: Sure, they may sit at the head of the table but if everyone in the company is waiting for your CEO’s direction, you have a problem. Parental control from your company shouldn’t be part of your work-life picture. Companies that encourage employees to hang on every word or thought from their CEO are cults, not companies. Respect for confidence and autonomy are integral parts of a functional company’s DNA.

Keep it Professional: The 12 tribes of Israel shared familial relationships, a confederation held together by bloodlines and religion. And while it’s cool to have your cousin, best friend or neighbor working for the same company, you shouldn’t plan on playing out these dynamics – or dysfunction – in the workplace. Whether you’re CEO or an intern, get your job done first, keep socializing and personal matters for after hours.

Taco Tuesdays Don’t Count: Ringing the bell when a new sale is closed traverses all workplaces. Becoming wedded to awkward rituals such as Hawaiian Shirt day or mandatory Thursday night cocktails diminishes and demoralizes those who are not interested nor inclined to join in. To this day, I cringe when remembering my required participation in a paintball outing, which was a very unpleasant experience as the only female on the leadership team. Force fake functions and learn how often they become the fastest way to lose valuable talent.

The best companies are those that embrace all levels of diversity, value creativity, and dispel group-think ideologies that try to make employees feel like they belong to something that doesn’t really exist. Because your workforce isn’t a family. You get to choose your employer. And the best places to work give everyone a voice and celebrate the unique backgrounds and skills each employee contributes to the business.